Monday, October 27, 2008

Bar Hayama: Making New Friends

I made reservations at four different places -- Comme Ca, Akasha, Anisette, and Nook. I read Yelp reviews, blog reviews, Chowhound posts, and sought out the advice of three different Westside foodie friends in my quest for the perfect restaurant for a reunion with my dear college friend Kyna. She was in town from Portland for just a week, and I had one night to "wow" her with great food and an atmosphere that was fun, yet quiet enough to hold a conversation. As I weighed the pros and cons of the various eateries I had originally zeroed in on, I asked her for some guidance. She provided me with only word: Sushi.

I immediately cancelled my reservations at some of the most sought after tables in town, and called Katsuya Brentwood. "We have 6:30 and 9 pm available." The woman who answered the phone told me. "Or you can sit at the bar." I kindly refused the less-than-desirable offers, my stomach swaying with disappointment. There would be no baked crab hand rolls for Kyna and me that Thursday night. Feeling slightly defeated, I picked up my cell phone and punched in the number to Bar Hayama, the secret Sawtelle sushi joint that my most trusted foodie friend had recommended. They could do 7:30 pm, inside or out. I selected inside (I chill easily) and sighed with resignation. I didn't even have to fight for the reservation -- good food couldn't come that easily, could it?

It could. And it did.

After spending three glorious hours dining at Bar Hayama last Thursday evening, I am convinced that they should change their name to Bar HaYUMa (har har har). I have eaten at some of the best/most popular sushi restaurants in the city -- Matsuhisa, Katsuya (Studio City), Izakaya by Katsuya, Koi, Sushi Roku, Hirozen, and the tragically hip Geisha House -- and Bar Hayama's quality fish and creative touch outshines all of them.

Not only did the food elicit several "wow" choruses over the course of the night, but the service was impeccable. Our server Colin steered us through the multi-page menu featuring Kozara (small plates), sushi, sashami, specials, and entrees with the confidence of a seasoned sea captain. Kyna and I yielded to his power and left with smiles so big that they competed with the brightness of the roaring fire pit on the patio outside. As we shook chef Toshi's hand on our way out of the quaint yet stylish eatery, I couldn't help but feel overcome with joy. My stomach purred with contentment, my heart was seized with nostalgia for "the good old days" of undergrad, and my head was buzzing with the new memories I had made that evening with my friend.

When I arrived at work the next morning, my joy was still present, but somewhat deflated by the realization that my closest friends live so far away -- in Portland, Washington DC, Chicago, and Philadelphia. They are the friends that I consider my "gold" friends. The ones that will be in my life forever -- no matter how much time passes or how much distance comes between us, just like that cheesy song my troop leader forced us to sing in Brownies. "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold."

I will always be sad that I can't see Ali or Caroline or Ashley or Kyna whenever I want, but I can take comfort in the new friends I have made since moving to Los Angeles in July 2005. I know I will be taking a lot of comfort in Bar Hayama and the new "silver" friends I made there on Thursday evening...

The garlic edamame appetizer ($5) that left my fingers sticky, my mouth stinky, and my taste buds very happy.

The shrimp cigar rolls with a spicy apricot sauce ($9) that were packed with plump shrimp.

The crispy rice and spicy tuna with balsamic vinegar sauce ($12) that were too big to be eaten with chopsticks, but that delivered a pop of flavor that superseded even Katsuya's version.

The calamari, asparagus and tomato salad ($10) with a sweet vinegar dressing that sounded weird, but was refreshing, refined and texturally pleasing.

The albacore carpaccio with diced chili ponzu warm olive oil ($14) that was the best dish of the evening, and the best dish I've encountered at a sushi restaurant. Tender, succulent pieces of melt-in-the-mouth perfection. Exquisite presentation and flavor profiles, this one is a must order.

The Hayama Crunch Roll (spicy tuna with crunch) ($12) that gave Kyna and I eight more reasons to love spicy tuna.

And the finale, a complimentary bowl of their famous miso soup that was a soothing way to end one of the best restaurant meals I've had in recent memory.

For only $99 ( before tip, including 4 glasses of wine), friends can be bought pretty easily at Bar Hayama.

But I'd say the restaurant is worth more than that. It's worth it's weight in gold.


Esi said...

I love that sometimes the best spots in LA are sometimes the most unassuming ones. This is quite the meal too and everything looks fantastic!! (I totally remember that song from Brownies too, btw)

Kyna said...

My favorite post to date, Di. What awesome memories from a perfect night! (looking at the pictures is making my mouth water all over again!) you keep finding the under-the-table places and next time i'm in town we'll do it again! XOXO Kyna